By Judy Carter

Social media is a way to communicate by posting information or content on the internet.  This comes in many forms, through personal web pages, blogs, journals or diaries, social networking or affinity websites, chat rooms, and the like.  These social media outlets are ways to share personal and professional information with the world.  Keep in mind that you are solely responsible for what you post online and may adversely impact your employer, their clients, and/or your coworkers.  Many companies have social media policies and practices that are fairly standard.

Most HR professionals do not go looking for employee personal social media content. There are a few organizations that dedicate staff to snorkel around on the world wide web looking for incriminating content, but for the most part, there are not enough resources to dedicate to this type of search. However, offensive content tends to find its way to company leaders’ desks or inboxes when a customer, client, or employee brings it to their attention.  Many HR leaders are tasked with determining the impact this content may have on the company and others.

When presented with an employee social media concern, I try to use the Reasonable Person Standard approach.  Basically, a legal term used to gauge how an ordinary person (a non-HR or legal professional) would respond in the given situation.  Not everything that crosses the desk of a human resources warrants disciplinary action but may require a response to the person or people offended.

HR professionals typically review the content of social media posts to determine if there is an immediate threat; physical, emotional, mental, something that needs to be addressed right away.  Even if the person states that the comments were unintentional, it does not give someone a pass to say derogatory things about others.  Your freedom does not give you the right to discriminate and/or harass others. 

When an employee is questioned about online content, they believe we’re infringing on their freedom of speech.  While you have the right to say whatever you want, in some cases, there may be consequences to those comments.  We need to educate ourselves on what the First Amendment really says and not twist it to fit our narrative.

First Amendment – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Here are some tips to consider when posting to social media:

1. If you are angry…don’t post anything.  Wait until you can calmly state the facts and engage in a healthy conversation.

2. Ask yourself: Does what I’m about to say help everyone or become more divisive?  Do I present a clear message based on facts, or is it just my perception?  Am I seeking to understand and/or be understood?

3. Consider others as more important than yourself.  Are there people you respect and admire that would be offended by your comments?  Would a mentor, co-worker, friend, be hurt by your words?  Broaden your network.  It’s harder to offend people when you care, love, and respect them.

4. If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by emotions, remove all social media apps from your phone so you’re not tempted to view them while at work.  If you are really struggling, deactivate your social media for at least 30 days.  Try it!  You’ll be surprised what you can find to do with your spare time.

When it comes to social media, remember, …Just because you think it – does not always mean you need to say it.  Look for ways to inspire and build up others. Help people become educated on topics you are a subject matter expert, but they may know nothing about.  Be respectful and when you can, take the conversation offline. 

Judy Carter is a Human Resources Professional with over 25 years of progressive experience with success in implementing, managing, and administering HR, Payroll and Benefits systems/solutions. She is currently the HR leader for a major transportation contractor with employees in eight states. Judy resides in Olathe, Kansas with her husband Casey. Her passion is coaching mid-level contributors and managers to their next level of management. For comments or questions email [email protected].